Handicapping a Deep Rebel Stakes Field

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

The Road to the Kentucky Derby takes an exciting turn this Saturday with the running of the 1 1/16-mile Rebel S. (G2) at Oaklawn Park.

The last 20 years have seen the Rebel rise steadily in prominence. Rebel winners Smarty Jones (2004) and American Pharoah (2015) both went on to claim victory in the Kentucky Derby (G1), while the Rebel purse has risen from $125,000 in 2003 to $1 million in 2023.

A strong field has lined up for this year's Rebel. Several exciting sophomores are among the entries, and it wouldn't be surprising to see the Kentucky Derby winner emerge from this 11-horse field.

One of the most accomplished entrants is #6 Reincarnate (7-2), who was—until recently—trained by Bob Baffert, who has saddled eight Rebel winners from 16 starters since 2010. Now conditioned by Baffert's former assistant Tim Yakteen, Reincarnate enters the Rebel off a determined victory in the one-mile Sham S. (G3) at Santa Anita, in which he led virtually all the way to defeat next-out Robert B. Lewis S. (G3) winner Newgate by a neck.

Reincarnate has put together a sharp series of workouts and has every chance to secure first prize under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, but he's hardly the only viable win contender in the Rebel field. #5 Giant Mischief (5-2) is an exciting colt conditioned by red-hot trainer Brad Cox, who has won four of the 11 Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifiers contested since Jan. 1.

Giant Mischief went 2-for-2 sprinting as a juvenile, but arguably his most impressive performance was a runner-up finish in the Remington Springboard Mile S. at Remington Park. Giant Mischief broke poorly in the one-mile Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifier and raced in last place for half a mile. But from the half-mile marker to the quarter pole, Giant Mischief gained five lengths with a gigantic outside rally, running that quarter-mile section in approximately :24.10 seconds.

Giant Mischief had every reason to falter after unleashing such an eye-catching midrace move, but although he lost ground early in the homestretch, he re-rallied in the final furlong to finish only 1 1/4 lengths behind the ground-saving winner Wildatlanticstorm.

I think a case can be made that Giant Mischief ran the best race in the Springboard Mile, so if he breaks better in the Rebel, I expect him to deliver another strong showing. Four-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey Irad Ortiz is picking up the mount, and Giant Mischief enters off a pair of fast :59 4/5 five-furlong workouts at Fair Grounds.

But as much as I like the chances of Giant Mischief, he's not my pick to win the Rebel. My top choice is actually Giant Mischief's stablemate #1 Verifying (2-1), a colt I've thought a lot of since he wired his debut sprinting six furlongs at Saratoga last summer.

A son of 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify out of the Repent mare Diva Delite, Verifying is a half-brother to Midnight Bisou, a champion who won 13 graded stakes (including five Grade 1s) during her decorated career. Midnight Bisou proved stakes-caliber as a juvenile but improved steadily with age, and I'm optimistic Verifying is progressing down a similar path.

Verifying joined the Road to the Kentucky Derby with a runner-up finish in the Champagne S. (G1) at Belmont Park, after which he misfired with a sixth-place effort in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1). But after taking a couple months off, Verifying returned better than ever in an allowance optional claimer on Jan. 14 at Oaklawn. Pace-pressing tactics carried Verifying to a 5 1/4-length triumph in the one-mile contest, and his performance was flattered when runner-up #4 Gun Pilot (8-1) and third-place finisher Two Eagles River came right back to win against similar competition.

Verifying has trained strongly for the Rebel, twice breezing five furlongs in :59 4/5 at Fair Grounds in recent weeks. The dates, distances, and times of his workouts are identical to the recent exercises posted by Giant Mischief, suggesting the two have been working in company.

Building on that point, hot jockey Florent Geroux (a 42% winner teaming up with Cox over the last two months per Brisnet stats) is set to ride Verifying for the first time, even though Geroux had previously been the rider of Giant Mischief. While conceding that I might be reading too much into workout lines and jockey assignments, I do wonder if Verifying is considered the top hope from Cox's barn this Saturday.

I'd also like to give a shout-out to Gun Pilot as a top-four contender. Following his runner-up finish behind Verifying, Gun Pilot overcame a slightly troubled trip to win a one-mile allowance optional claimer at Oaklawn by two lengths. The son of Gun Runner has improved with every start for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen and is eligible to move forward again on Saturday.


1st: Verifying
2nd: Giant Mischief
3rd: Reincarnate
4th: Gun Pilot

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Rebel?


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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite.

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